Analyzing Billboard’s Top Rap ChartsJade GomezBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingMay 7Growing up, I was surrounded by rap music.
Blaring out of storefronts, car radios, and TV speakers were the sounds of all different coasts coming together.
This constant exposure to hip hop and my sheltered Asian upbringing made me hate it, and I spent a part of my teenage years immersed in classic rock instead.
That didn’t last very long.
In my freshman year of high school, I was introduced to fresh new rap acts like Danny Brown, Run the Jewels, and Saul Williams.
I was reintroduced to old childhood favorites like Kanye West and Tupac.
Hip hop took over my world, and my tastes have slowly refined well into college.
I developed an almost unnatural obsession with southern rap after being introduced to the Geto Boys.
The region combined my love for immersive storytelling with not only beats I can dance to, but also dark production much like the punk music I enjoyed in my childhood and the jazzy influences that were common in the small pool of “acceptable” music I could listen to as a kid.
The south was a breeding ground for experimentation, and I wanted to spread that gospel.
Since then, most of my work has centered around southern hip hop that is both old and new.
I’m constantly finding new artists and sounds coming out of every crevice of the South.
I thought that the South was largely under-appreciated in mainstream music, only seeing a recent revival within the past three years.
Artists like A$AP Rocky sampled Memphis legend Tommy Wright III and experimented with chopped and screwed production that was pioneered by Texas’ own DJ Screw.
Cardi B sampled Project Pat’s “Chickenhead” on her smash hit album Invasion of Privacy.
A$AP Ferg reimagined Three 6 Mafia’s underground hit “Slob On My Nob” in his single “Plain Jane”.
Even recently, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” has seen immense success for reviving “country rap”, which Texas’ UGK pioneered decades before with their distinct southern twang and plucky instrumentals.
I decided to test this theory for myself by looking at Billboard’s Top Rap Song charts from 1990 to 2018.
I decided to leave out their R&B chart for the sake of brevity.
Each song was determined to be number one in the country based on airplay until 2012, when streaming numbers and digital downloads were added to the criteria.
I compiled my list by only taking the artist from each song and finding the state they were from and its corresponding coast, which meant that I eliminated any artists who were not from the United States.
If they were born in Texas but their career and success originated in New York, they were an East coast artist from New York.
Coastal distinctions were made using this handy map from World Atlas.
Image courtesy of World AtlasI also took out duplicates in each year.
So, if Missy Elliott was number one three times in one year, I only counted her once as to not skew the data further.
I would count her for any number ones for the following years.
This is about the artist, not the songs.
All in all, I looked through 291 lines of data.
I found 191 unique artists from 1990 to 2018.
I also found myself investigating an entirely different question at the end of my research.
I decided to ask the simplest question to start off: what region are these artists from?.The results surprised me.
Looking at the 28 years of data, the South follows close behind the East coast in terms of number one hits out of those nearly 300 songs (again, keeping in mind that duplicate artists were taken out for each year).
I decided to see how the coastal trends changed by decade.
Interestingly enough, the South actually dominated the charts starting in the 2000s.
Looking back at my data, Outkast and Nelly both had several years of number one hits throughout the early 00s.
This makes sense thinking about the musical climate of the time.
The South was churning out fun and danceable hits that packed dancefloors and blasted through cellphone speakers as ringtones.
Most importantly, the South had unique sounds and artists coming out of all different states, compared to the other coasts where there were distinct musical hubs like New York and California.
I wanted to see what states made the cut for each year, which I compiled into a fun gif!.The darker the state is, the more number one artists came from it.
In the 90s, New York and California were the main players in the game, but California started to fade out by the early 00s.
As the coast wars came to a halt after the deaths of Tupac Shakur in 1996 and Notorious B.
in 1997, so came the coincidental end to their respective state’s reign in the charts, California moreso than New York’s.
As the 2000s rolled on, more Floridan, Georgian, and Texan artists joined the charts.
Because of the constant presence of New York and California in the number one spots, I wanted to see the variety of state representation over the course of the 28 years I observed.
As I expected, New York is the largest player in the rap game for the East Coast.
For the birthplace of hip hop, I don’t expect any less.
It’s also a very large state and serves as a cultural hub for the East Coast.
The South on the other hand has slightly more variety.
Georgia is an obvious main player because Atlanta serves as a hub of transportation and culture with a large airport and its convenient location snug in the middle of other states.
Florida is much like Georgia as a cultural hub, and is home to a lot of the danceable music that continues to dominate the charts because of its proximity to the Caribbean islands.
The South shares in the wide variety of sounds and cultures with all of its states.
The West Coast?.Not so much.
The pie chart doesn’t do the data justice in this case.
Out of 24 unique artists of the West Coast, only one of them was not from California and that’s Washington’s own Macklemore.
The rest of the artists are all from California.
While shocking, I’m not very surprised as California is a massive state that encompasses most of the coastal region.
Maybe looking deeper into the charts, we may find slightly more state variety but for the purposes of this story, we’re only looking at number one hits.
My findings led me to my final hypothesis: with the rise of digital media and downloads, audiences haven’t been listening to enough new music.
In the nineties, some years saw over twenty unique artists taking turns for the coveted number one spot.
In 2014, there were four.
Four unique artists.
Upon testing this theory, I wasn’t entirely wrong.
Here’s the breakdown by decade to see it a bit closer:This decline hurts to see, especially when I know how much amazing music comes out of every part of the country every single week.
What happened?.That, I can’t answer.
It can be from burnout that we as music lovers experience when there’s streaming services on our phones with an endless supply of music to listen to.
It can also be from the decline of the radio station as a dependable way to listen to music.
Back then, music could be accessed through physical media and radio stations.
Stations had more of an incentive to switch it up to keep listeners interested.
Then, pirating music became a widespread phenomena in the 2000s with clients like Limewire and Napster making it easier for people to access music on their own time through their computers.
The portable music player ushered out CDs and records, and now there’s a near endless supply of music you can take with you on the go right in your pocket.
By the time smartphones came into the market with internet capability, those iPods and Zunes were tucked into drawers and mp3 files began collecting digital dust on our desktops.
There’s less of an incentive for variety now, and it’s easier for a radio station to play the same Rihanna or Drake song every hour.
It puts money in their pockets.
I remember being a young, impressionable eleven year old stumbling upon New York alternative rock treasure 101.
They never played the same artist twice in one hour and I heard everything from New Order to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to local bands.
On Sundays, I would listen to Anything Anything with DJ Rich Russo where he would play Bruce Springsteen mixed in with up and coming New York bands with only a few hundred Twitter followers.
The DJs became friends to me.
They genuinely took requests and took chances with their programming.
The day of their last broadcast was heartbreaking, and I never had that same radio experience again.
However, that station inspired me to use the internet to my advantage.
I have to find this music myself.
I went into this with a goal to find out if the South was represented in the rap charts and ended up realizing that it doesn’t matter that much at the end of the day.
Number one hits only quantify popularity.
What matters is that we all find music that speaks to us, regardless of whether or not it’s pumped through radio stations every hour or found in the deepest corners of Youtube.
Let’s be more conscious of supporting the artists we love.
Find a new artist to listen to today and tell a friend!.Buy a CD!.Go to a show!.Make music fun again.